Over at WPLN, Daniel Potter has a story about the number of teacher retirements doubling in the last five years.
More Tennessee teachers are heading for the exits. Since 2008 the number is up by more than a thousand — nearly doubling — to a total last year of almost 2,200. Exactly why is a bit of a mystery.
Some teachers see it as a response to a couple years of politically charged upheaval in state education policy. But state officials say it’s not so clear-cut, and even go so far as to argue higher turnover has an upside.
You can already see the root of the silliness in these two paragraphs. Teachers are retiring. Teachers say that it's because of job upheaval. It would seem logical to believe teachers about why they're retiring or thinking about retiring. But no, our silly state asks us to ignore teachers' own statements about why they retire, and instead accept that those teachers are mistaken or lying or ... I don't know ... ignorant of their own motivations. The state can tell us the real truth: "The uptick in retirements might have less to do with shifting policy, says Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, and more to do with the economy."
But, wait! It gets better. Because not only is Huffman going to try to sell us on his ability to know teachers' minds better than they know them themselves, Huffman is going to try to tell us all this retirement is a good sign — saying that "our lowest-performing teachers were retiring at twice the rate of our best-performing teachers.”
Twice the rate! Wow, that sounds like great news. Except Potter looks at the actual numbers, not the rate, and finds we're losing more good teachers than bad.
But it’s worth comparing more than just rates. In terms of real people, last year more top teachers retired — 129 of them, compared to 96 from the bottom. So even though 5s retired at a lower rate, there were still far more of them gone. State officials argue the rate is a more telling comparison, since in 2012 there were 6,704 teachers with 5s on the 1-to-5 scale, while 1s totaled just 2,644.
In other words, the state wants to put the numbers in the best light possible. And that's understandable. But it still strikes me as hilarious. Especially when coupled with a refusal to acknowledge teachers' own reasons for retiring as valid.
It's like, rather than have us take teachers' simple explanations for their actions as truth, the state wants to wave its hands and tap dance around and somehow, through entertainment, have us believe that the reasons are mysterious. Ooooh.
But, as Isaac Newton said, "We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances." We don't need nebulous, innumerable and not-quite-real reasons to explain why teacher's are jumping ship. Sometimes the simplest explanation is, indeed, the right one.
It's just not the one that makes the state look good.